How did the early church view the Words of Jesus? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.
Last night I was reading Ken Bailey’s latest book “Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes.” It’s a fascinating look at 1 Corinthians and I urge everyone to read it. What I was reading was about 1 Corinthians 9 and something was said that was one of those things we know already, but we don’t really think about until it hits us right between the eyes..
Last night, I wrote about the Jewishness of Jesus and how startling He was to His contemporaries. Later as I read, I was reading Bailey’s thoughts on 1 Corinthians 9 and in there he stated that the words of Jesus were being seen immediately on par with the words of Scripture.
That is something we think about and is fairly obvious to us in some ways. If Jesus was truly God in the flesh and Scripture is that which God says, then it would follow that whatever Jesus said would be Scripture. What is amazing is that this was such a quick recognition. It wasn’t the case that we had to wait until Nicea and then people started looking back and thinking “You know, all those things Jesus said, I’m starting to think maybe he was even YHWH in the flesh!”
The idea of Jesus being YHWH was not a development that came with paganism. It came right out of a Jewish milleu. Paul is being entirely consistent with his Jewish tradition. Note also that Bailey points out that in 1 Corinthians 9, Paul does not really say he became a Gentile. Instead, he says that he became like one not under the Law, save the law of Christ. Why? Paul can’t become a Gentile because he is a Jew and that is something that will never change.
Now of course Paul can stop following Jewish customs, although he will follow them if it will help someone come to the gospel. Today there are people who can abandon Judaism altogether and become atheists, but yet they still realize that even while atheists, they are still Jews. Some of them even still follow the rules of kosher eating as atheists.
The point is that Jesus was given this high place immediately. The last of the prophets before John the Baptist that had come was Malachi and that was about 400 years before Christ. The Heavens had been silent. It is my belief that God was wanting people to think about the time He had been silent for 400 years before sending Moses. Now, He was to send the prophet like Moses but greater than Moses. The people would be truly free from slavery.
Everything from Malachi and earlier that we have in the Old Testament was seen as authoritative Scripture and that would not be taken lightly. Notice what the 1st century Jewish historian Josephus says about the Old Testament in “Against Apion”.
For we have not an innumerable multitude of books among us, disagreeing from and contradicting one another, [as the Greeks have,] but only twenty-two books, which contain the records of all the past times; which are justly believed to be divine; and of them five belong to Moses, which contain his laws and the traditions of the origin of mankind till his death. This interval of time was little short of three thousand years; but as to the time from the death of Moses till the reign of Artaxerxes king of Persia, who reigned after Xerxes, the prophets, who were after Moses, wrote down what was done in their times in thirteen books. The remaining four books contain hymns to God, and precepts for the conduct of human life. It is true, our history hath been written since Artaxerxes very particularly, but hath not been esteemed of the like authority with the former by our forefathers, because there hath not been an exact succession of prophets since that time; and how firmly we have given credit to these books of our own nation is evident by what we do; for during so many ages as have already passed, no one has been so bold as either to add any thing to them, to take any thing from them, or to make any change in them; but it is become natural to all Jews immediately, and from their very birth, to esteem these books to contain Divine doctrines, and to persist in them, and, if occasion be willingly to die for them
And yet, immediately the words of Christ are given such a position and we can often take them so lightly. We have heard the gospel stories so much that often times we do not have the amazement of them that we know that we should have. Let us not lose sight of this. The words of Jesus are the words of God Himself and if we take God seriously, we must take Jesus seriously. Perhaps if we do not take Jesus seriously, we should question if we are doing the same for God.